If you are a follower of my Facebook page, you may remember reading these words: “To all the mothers staring out the window with tears in your eyes, wondering how you are going to make it through the day — yet you do get through to nighttime — please know how capable and brave you are.” That was me. I was staring out the window at 8am with tears in my eyes not sure how I was going to get my two young children to school on time and myself through the day. But I knew I would. I knew I was going to summon some energy from somewhere and pull it off, and so did many, many other parents that day. Parents are really more capable than we give ourselves credit for.
The thing is, there wasn’t really much to be sad about. My life is wonderful and I have an amazing husband who is my buddy, business partner, and helper. There are some stressors but nothing really overwhelming. I really didn’t know why I was sad — I just couldn’t stop the tears.
One day I just sat down on the sofa and cried — a lot — for no reason. Instead of doing what I typically do as a psychotherapist, which is to jump into solving mode to “get myself out of this,” I just allowed myself time to cry.
I did this because I had faith that “this too shall pass.” Actually, maybe it was more of an experiment; I wondered what would happen if I just surrendered to my sadness and didn’t try to fix it. I was going to let this happen for two weeks before planting myself in the office of a trusted helper, which is what I suggest you do, too. If you are losing sleep, feeling overwhelmed and weepy, and not sure how to pull yourself out of your slump after about two weeks (or sooner if need be), it is time to ask for professional help.
Not surprisingly, it did pass. I witnessed some amazing things with my children, and remembered some basic tenets of allowing emotions to pass through us, which I’d like to share with you.
Children are loving, empathetic, caring little people — give them an opportunity to empathize with you.
Just when I felt done with making another snack, zipping another coat, or using clever words instead of my sour inside voice, I saw a wonderful side of my children. For example, one day while sitting at the kitchen table with teary eyes, my younger son, without asking for any help (which is really a miracle), changed into his “fancy clothes,” figured out how to play a song I like on the stereo, found his toy microphone, smiled, and starting singing like no one was watching. I momentarily cried harder but then suddenly felt like a weight had been lifted. He knew just what to do. I would love to hear stories of when your children helped you through tears. Please go ahead and post them either on my Facebook page or in the comments below.
I was reminded to: Be emotionally honest in front of my children, and give them an opportunity to empathize with me. Show your children what it looks like to have big feelings and how to help yourself when that happens. If you aren’t sure how to help yourself, also be honest about that and share with your children (age-appropriately) how you are seeking the help you need. Oh, and when you are feeling very angry, go ahead and do that in front of your kids, but make sure not to be scary with your angry feelings. Try growling, rubbing your hands, and just saying “I’m angry.”
When we take the risk to admit feeling sad, scared or angry, people want to help.
Open up to your partner, friend, sibling, or anyone you feel safe around to be vulnerable with big feelings. I was so concerned with not complaining or being a “negative nelly,” that I wasn’t being honest with how I felt. When I finally did that, the outpouring of support was overwhelming. There is someone out there who wants to hear you. I invite you to take the risk of finding that person.
Big feelings are fluid — they will not stay if we give them an opportunity to move along.
Have you ever said, “I don’t have time for this sh*t!”? Life has a way of making us have time for “this sh*t,” if we refuse to, doesn’t it? The more we try to avoid our big feelings, that important conversation, or our overwhelming stress, the more it will press on us. It is normal to have big feelings — what we do with those is so important. When we allow them to move along safely, we can “process” the sadness, anger or fear and learn from that experience. When we try to fight intense feelings, they can sink us, turn us into cranky wrecks, and make our bodies hurt. (An excellent book explaining how feelings process is called THE WHOLE-BRAIN CHILD by Dr Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, PhD)
If you aren’t sure how to allow or process big feelings, I suggest contacting a trusted counselor or psychotherapist for help. You could also visit your local bookstore and look for a book that seems to jump out at you.
Write, dance, sing, draw or shout it out.
Journaling, drawing, listening to or singing a song you feel connected with are excellent ways to move feelings through safely. If you aren’t sure how to start journaling, I suggest getting a blank page and writing “I am angry because…” / “I am sad because…” or “I really need…” at the top of the paper and see what comes out. Don’t censor yourself! Allow swears, the naming of names, and the works to flow out. You can always burn the page safely afterward if you are concerned others might see it.
If you are still breathing, there is still hope.
There is always hope and always some way for things to improve, even if we can’t see it in that moment — trust that. We now have so much wonderful information about parenting, relationships and communication. It is possible to heal open wounds, repair strained relationships, and thrive while raising young children. Keep breathing and carry on bravely.
If you would like some pointers on how to empathize with your children when you are feeling tapped out, here are my suggestions for doing that. And this is what I have learned to get out of survival mode and into thriving.
Photo — iStockphoto.com